7 years later, and it seems unfathomable that all of this time has gone by. I can remember seeing my first symptom on my arm - a freckle? Almost a mole. I can recall looking at it and being puzzled because, it was not there yesterday or any other day of my life. It was new and very apparent. It had dimensions like a mole, but I don’t have any moles and all of my other freckles were/are small specks of dots. I remember waking up the next morning and the sun was shining into my room. It was a beautiful morning, but my body was collapsing. I could feel the pain, sensitivity, and feeling nauseous all over. I remember vividly my sister coming in, on a fluke carpool request to pick me up for school, and seeing me on the ground, not able to get up. I remember the doctor telling my sister, within minutes upon arrival at the hospital, to call my mother because “she needs to be here.”
That was the day when my life changed forever.
Being in the hospital was like a prison for me. Unlike the other patients, I didn’t have the freedom to walk down the halls during my free time. My legs and hands were decaying, I could barely sit up on my own or even lift my arms over my head. I had to stay, and suffer from my battle of meningitis, like this for seven months. Within my hospital stay, I endured amputations as well. I was 20 years old when all of this happened - a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin. When I first stepped onto campus that year, I didn’t know my life would be like that. I didn’t know that not only was I going to go to school for an education, but I would also go through rehab/physical therapy to walk on prosthetic legs while attending. Going back to school after being sick was a challenge. Not only did I feel like I wasn’t ready for a classroom setting, I wasn’t even comfortable in my own skin. Quite shortly after that, all of that changed and my self confidence came back.
In the duration of the hospital and months following, my family and I ended up passing a bill in Texas to protect students from meningitis through vaccination requirements, and I also simultaneously participated in a cycling opportunity that lead me to Guadalajara for the Para Pan American games in 2011 with the USA Paralympic Cycling team. This all occurred while attending the university and within three years from being initially sick. When I was competing in the games, I could not believe that my life made a turn for this. I currently have medals in my closet and laws in my name. Life is good.
My life now is more fulfilling than it ever has been. From meeting parents, athletes, other meningitis survivors, patients in the hospitals, musical artists, other celebrities, philanthropists, and more, my life has lead me to where it is today and it’s my job as an advocate to share my story and protect as many people as I can. Through this law, the Jamie Schanbaum and Nicolis Williams Act(amended in 2011), I am able to vaccinate and protect around 400,000 students in the state of Texas from contracting a truly devastating disease. One day I was fine, studying for exams, the next day I am making serious life sensitive decisions for myself. Meningitis isn't something you cure, it's something to prevent - it typical kills within 24 hours. I was admitted into the hospital within 14 hours of my first symptom. I had a 10% of survival and I wasn’t vaccinated. I was very lucky to survive. If I was vaccinated, all of this would have been prevented. But as my hispanic grandmother has said many times, there was a reason to why I got sick and I believe her now. I wouldn’t change anything.
Since I graduated, I am still pursuing advocacy and currently work for different companies that hire me. I’m also an advocate for my non-profit the J.A.M.I.E. Group that focuses on educating the public on the important matters of meningitis.
My life took a turn for the worst, but I made it and I am able to tell my story. My seven year marker took place this past Friday on November 13th - a very unlucky day for me 7 years ago. I love my life and where it is. While great events have occurred this year, I have a feeling that next year will lead to bigger and better opportunities… Maybe even a book. Stay tuned ;)